De auteur springt in het begin helaas nogal van de hak op de tak. De informatieve feitelijke hoofdstukken, die ik hier grotendeels niet samenvat, zijn gelukkig een stuk beter.
Tegelijkertijd zit het boek vol met normatieve tegenstrijdigheden. Bijvoorbeeld over de biologische invloed op iemand aantrekkelijk vinden, verliefd worden en seksualiteit. Het zijn altijd weer die evolutionair denkende biologen en psychologen die van mening zijn dat al dat soort gedrag vast verankerd ligt in de genen of hersenen of wat ook. Dat de wereld niet dezelfde waarden en normen heeft als de Verenigde Staten is nog niet doorgedrongen tot de dames en heren. De invloed van samenleving en cultuur krijgt dus veel te weinig aandacht in dit boek. Ook wat er geschreven wordt over kinderen / tieners en seksualiteit is tegenstrijdig - zie de laatste citaten.
[Het verschil tussen 'zuivere liefde van hart en geest' (love) en 'dierlijke verlangens' (desire, lust, uncontrolled passion) wordt vaak gemaakt. Maar - natuurlijk - komt die liefde gewoon voort uit verlangens. En verlangen is niet zo zeer een innerlijke drift geregeld door hersengebieden en hormonen maar is een reactie op iets, komt voort uit de aantrekkelijkheid van de ander, uit de anticipatie van het plezier dat je met die ander kunt hebben. ]
Biologische theorietjes over aantrekkelijkheid gaan over hersenen (neurotransmitters: dopamine, norepinephrine / adrenaline and oxytocin) en hormonen (testosteron, oestrogeen). Veel is nog niet duidelijk.
[Ook hier waarden en normen. Biologische factoren hebben natuurlijk invloed, maar dat betekent niet dat je niet anders kunt dan die invloed volgen. Evolutionaire biologie zoals die van Helen Fisher wordt al gauw evolutionaire psychologie, zoals dat onderscheid in drie stadia 'lust, attraction, attachment'. Ja, hoor, exclusieve relaties liggen verankerd in onze hersenen en zo, dus is het 'normaal' om je aan één iemand te binden. Dat is nodig om er voor te zorgen dat kinderen het kunnen overleven, zegt ze. Als mensen niet bij elkaar zouden blijven, zou dat niet kunnen? Belachelijk. Wat dan met alle alleenstaande ouders en met iedereen die bij elkaar kruipt zonder ooit kinderen te willen of te krijgen? En wat dan met een groep waarin kinderen opgevangen worden en waarin de biologische ouders helemaal niet zo belangrijk zijn?]
Ook psychologen hebben zo hun theorietjes. Bijvoorbeeld Dorothy Tennov over verliefdheid:
"The limerent, or falling lover, experiences aching in the chest, churning in the stomach, obsessive thoughts, hyper-sensitivity to looks and comments, and fear of rejection. Positive qualities in the beloved are dwelled on and imaginatively intensified; negative ones are ignored or justified. Panting desire gives way to trembling anxiety about performance. Paralysing shyness in the presence of the beloved veers towards wild risk taking. Pounding despair suddenly soars to an elation so extreme as to feel as if the limerent is actually walking on air.
This appalling state lasts about eighteen months to three years, on average, intensifying from a first, surprising wave to a state of virtual addiction some months later. Some get accustomed to their addiction after a couple of years, and find they can move on – which, for some, explains the phenomenon of the four-year peak in Western divorces. Some manage to transform limerence to committed, intimate love."(8)
[Zo'n beschrijving zit werkelijk tjokvol met westerse, zo niet Amerikaanse, waarden en normen. En omdat de media dit soort theorietjes op duizend manieren in de wereld zetten beginnen mensen er zich naar te gedragen. Wat in een volgend onderzoek weer bevestigt dat verliefd worden bij mensen nu eenmaal zo gaat. En zo verder. Ik denk niet dat er ook maar iets universeels is aan verliefd worden. ]
"Marazziti’s serotonin findings explain an unfortunate side effect of serotonin-boosting antidepressants like some SSRIs: it seems they can actually block passionate love. Given that SSRIs may also interfere with desire and orgasm, some sufferers from depression are being given an unenviable choice between a life and a sex life."(13)
Ook weer allerlei theorietjes. Biologische gaan over geur (pheromonen bv.) die mensen bij elkaar vaststellen. De geuren bij ovulatie.
[Grappig: zweet in de oksels en ook allerlei andere geuren schijnen je aantrekkelijk te maken. En mensen bestrijden die geurtjes met deodorant, de sufferds.]
"Visual attractiveness isn’t quite the same thing as beauty. Beauty is both hugely subjective and culturally determined. Attractiveness is more about assessing someone as a potential sexual partner – and people around the world seem to agree much more about who “looks good” in this way than on who looks “beautiful”. (...) For longer-term relationships people don’t seek the jaw-droppingly gorgeous, on the whole. They seek a partner who stands on roughly the same rung of the attractiveness ladder as themselves."(17)
Uiterlijke kenmerken die aantrekkelijk gevonden worden:
"A symmetrical face, it appears, flags up a good person to breed with. The effect may be boosted by another indicator of good health that the program creates: clear, even-toned skin."(18)
"masculine-looking men are generally thought to be sexually attractive, as are feminine-looking women. Curiously, people at the masculine and feminine extremes of looks are often read as being more up for casual sex as well - and, according to psychologist Lynda Boothroyd of Durham University, may actually be so."(18)
[Ook hier gaat het weer over onderzoeken waarin mensen foto's moeten waarderen en dus heel de waarden en normen van een samenleving in hun oordelen stoppen. Zou je het onderzoek doen met Indiase of Chinese mensen dan zou je heel andere resultaten krijgen waarschijnlijk. Ik begrijp niet dat er zo weinig oog is voor de achterliggende waarden en normen wanneer het over 'mannelijk' of 'vrouwelijk' gaat. Mannelijk: meer vierkante kaken, meer uitgesproken jukbeenderen, grotere neuzen, kleinere ogen. Vrouwelijk: On average, women have bigger eyes, fuller lips, a smaller gap between nose and mouth and mouth and chin, and smaller noses. Ach, dát is het natuurlijk ... ]
[Hoe onzinnig een en ander is:]
"Men, on the whole, strongly equate youthfulness with sexiness. Youth correlates, of course, with high fertility but it may produce a different kind of attractiveness from oestrogen-rich womanliness. Blonde hair is often said to be sexy, and some think this is because hair, in general, darkens and coarsens with age. Blonde says young which says fertile ... Sceptics of this kind of evolutionary guesswork point out that blonde hair also signals “Scandinavia”, which is one of the world’s wealthiest and most sexually liberal regions – not to mention being a major producer of porn."(20)
[Het eerste stukje is een belediging voor alle volkeren waarvan het haar normaalgesproken zwart is zoals in Azië. Het tweede stukje laat zien hoe druk er gespeculeerd wordt.]
"one core beauty standard remains: the waist–hip ratio. As long as women’s waists are significantly smaller than their hips, it’s thought, men will find them basically attractive.
One survey of cultures around the world agreed: a broad pelvis on a woman was thought to be a good thing by six times as many societies as thought it was unattractive. An American survey found that between the 1960s and 1980s, Playboy models and Miss America contestants have almost always had waists that were roughly 70 percent the size of their hips, even though overall size had gone up or down in line with fashions. The argument runs that this golden ratio reflects healthy levels of oestrogen (which helps determine where fat is deposited on the body). And good oestrogen equates with fertility – and thus with male attraction, as triggered by preferences shaped by evolution."(21)
[En we zouden daar allemaal gek op zijn omdat het wijst op vruchtbaarheid en we zijn er qua seks natuurlijk alleen maar op uit om ons voort te planten, nietwaar. Wat een flauwekul toch, al die evolutionaire argumenten.]
"Ideals of male bodily beauty tend to be a version of classic masculinity: narrow hips, muscularity and broad shoulders figure highly in most hit lists. All these features relate to testosterone levels. But as with facial preferences, a lot may depend on what a woman is looking for. An extremely masculine figure, shaped by very high testosterone (and, perhaps, extreme narcissism in the gym), may communicate fertility – but it’s not necessarily the figure of someone you’d want to live with, or who you’d trust to care about your pleasure, or, indeed, bring up your children."(22)
[Om maar duidelijk te maken hoe vaag het allemaal is. Wat is nu dus aantrekkelijk? Wat iemand aantrekkelijk wil vinden.]
"having older brothers is one of the strongest predictors of sexual orientation."(33)
"Ultimately, the extent to which homosexuality is biological is entirely unclear – so speculating about the purpose of the imagined genes which cause it is rather fantastical. It’s quite possible that culture is transcending biology, in any case. Homosexuality could just as well be an expression of human creativity. It could be for pleasure. Evidence from animals is certainly pointing that way."(34)
Heel goed overzicht van de feiten en de onzin er om heen. Over gender:
"Some children, of course, choose not to play the role expected of them. Overwhelmingly, they are boys – though this is surely the result of girls being “allowed” a much wider range of behaviour on the masculine-to-feminine scale. Little girls can be tomboys, to put it crudely, while little boys are more rarely allowed to be effeminate."(75)
[Toch ook hier af en toe waarden en normen te midden van de feiten. En uiteraard ook vooral daar waar het over kinderen en seksualiteit gaat. Zie laatste alinea. Maar ook verderop wordt gedaan alsof alleen de hormonen het gedrag bepalen en wordt de invloed van de cultuur te weinig genoemd.]
"The first dim stirrings of what will eventually become adult sexuality usually occur at around three or four years old, when a part of the brain’s hypothalamus gland, the snappily named gonadotropin-releasing hormone pulse generator, starts doing its work: generating pulses of gonadotropin hormones. These minuscule bursts happen roughly once every ninety minutes. You could say that a tiny sexual clock in the brain starts ticking. In response to the hormones, children may start to explore their own bodies and those of others, typically friends or siblings.
Freud described this stage as “phallic”, observing that boys become sexually aware of their own penises. (He also imagined that they began to desire their mothers and resent their fathers – the so-called Oedipus complex; girls, meanwhile, were supposed to be envious of the male penis, and to start desiring their fathers.) In fact, both boys and girls at around three or four seem to become aware of their genitals in much the same way.
The scientist Nathalie Angier has described the hormone burst as being enough to make children “waggish and slightly erotic”, but not enough for puberty to begin. It can be difficult for adults to interpret or handle this behaviour if it’s directed at them. Clearly, children are in no way capable of fully sexual experiences, and yet they may be tentatively testing their sexual selves against the world. Their vulnerability at this time is one of the reasons why inappropriate sexual contact with adults can be so intensely damaging (see p.348)." [mijn nadruk] (193)
"Most schools are good at providing the biological basics, and those free from religious control generally provide advice on sexual health and contraception too. Good schools put it in context as “sex and relationship education”, and use techniques like inviting anonymous questions from the class. Few, however, offer sex education anything like as early as they almost certainly should, which means that, if you’re an early developer, puberty will have got going before your school did.
It is even rarer for schools to offer any information on how or why people enjoy sex, or how to be a more skilful or considerate lover. The words “pleasure” and “orgasm” don’t even occur once in the UK government’s 48-page paper on Sex and Relationship Education, for example. In fact, “the promotion of sexual orientation or sexual activity” – whatever promotion might mean – is explicitly described as “inappropriate teaching”. Worldwide, the emphasis is on children delaying sexual activity as long as possible, as if it will inevitably harm them, alongside a strong promotion of the (statistically unrealistic) notion that sexual activity should be restricted to loving, long-term relationships.(...)
One in three women in the UK started their periods before their parents mentioned menstruation; one in ten had no information from anyone at all before they started.(...)
Fearing early pregnancy, parents often advise girls, in particular, not to let boys get too close – thus helping set up an attitude of female sexual passivity from the word go, and shoring up the famous sexual double standard, in which a boy who sleeps around is a stud, whereas a girl doing the same is a slut. This kind of advice may also inhibit girls from actively seeking out contraception. The romantic myth often peddled to young women is that sex is something that happens to you when you’re carried away by passion – which doesn’t sit very easily with taking sensible precautions and making a trip to the pharmacist."(195)
"The feminist Gloria Steinem reckoned that if men had periods, they’d boast about how much they bled and how long for."(197)
"If the naditu women (see p.307) topped the bill in Babylon, the donkey work at temples dedicated to Ishtar seems to have been done by assistants called kulmashitu. It’s not quite clear whether they were actual temple prostitutes, dedicated to the ritual practice of sex, or secular prostitutes whose earnings simply helped support the temple. But there was definitely a ritual element to their work: they would learn to dance and sing in honour of the goddess, as well as providing nursing services. The Greek historian Herodotus even assured his wide-eyed readers that every single Babylonian woman would have had ritual sex with a foreigner in the temple of Ishtar – just as every Syrian woman offered their bodies to their parallel goddess, Astarte. (...)
In India, the practice of temple prostitution didn’t really get going until the sixth century AD. Devadasis (or “servants of god”) maintained the highest cultural traditions of singing, dancing, worship and sexual prowess. Curiously, some claim that devadasis were once celibate priestesses who married a temple deity – in much the same way as Christian nuns are “brides of Christ”, or Rome’s vestal virgins tended the sacred flame of Vesta, the goddess of the hearth. (The Roman virgins had good reason to stay celibate: they risked being buried alive in special oubliettes otherwise.) During the Muslim era, the devadasi tradition was weakened by association with the professional prostitute-dancers or “nautch girls” who performed for aristocrats. The tradition took a further beating from the prudish British and the equally prudish Hindu-reformers who followed them. Today, there are maybe a few thousand devadasis left in all of India, mostly in rural areas of Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, and, for the most part, having only a nominal connection to a religious life."(316-317)
[Is volgens andere auteurs achterhaald.]
"This relative liberalism is a historical freak. Legal history is stuffed with odd prohibitions against what was often loosely called sodomy – which generally meant any kind of sex that wasn’t between husband and wife and didn’t have the intention of conceiving a child. Buggery, which usually meant either anal sex or sex with an animal, was a particular target of legal hostility, and laws criminalizing or restricting sex between men have only recently come off the statute books. Most countries’ legal codes still invade bodily autonomy and sexual privacy in a few key areas. Children are forbidden to have sex until they reach a certain age. Women in some countries do not have free access to contraception or abortion. Gay men and lesbians are frequently denied state sanction of their relationships in the form of marriage, or civil partnership with the same rights as heterosexual couples. Adults are not allowed to talk about sex in certain media, notably in particular times or in particular ways on television, or in schools. And there are usually state controls on paid-for sex."(337-339)
"At the same time as the age of puberty (see p.194) has dropped, the “age of consent” – at which people are allowed to have sex – has gone up. In the nineteenth century, children could often get married or have sex at anything between twelve and fourteen years of age. Nowadays, the average is sixteen.
Many countries set the barrier even higher. In California, Florida and a number of backwoods US states, for instance, a boy and a girl are supposed to be eighteen years old before they can have sex – five years or so after puberty usually begins." [mijn nadruk] (339)
"Age-of-consent laws have many motivations. Applied to older, post-pubescent children, they’re designed to help avoid pregnancy in girls regarded as too young to cope, and to discourage sexual behaviour among boys and girls vulnerable to hurt or exploitation. Applied to younger children, they are a crucial defence against sexual abuse by peers or adults. They work to a limited extent in that they may be able to make it easier for children to say “no”. In many people’s minds these laws also exist to preserve the “innocence” of childhood. This well-meaning notion is based less on reality than on the foundations of a contemporary Western culture that infantilizes even older children to an unusual degree. Young people are debarred from the chief areas that define adulthood: work, social responsibility, and sex.
Opponents of age-of-consent laws argue that children have as much right to pleasure and to bodily autonomy as adults. They also point out that making teen sex illegal criminalizes teenagers who will almost certainly end up having sex anyway, and makes it harder for young people to access the very services that will protect them from actual harm, namely sex education and contraception." [mijn nadruk] (340)
"Sexual contact with a child is a form of violence. Even leaving aside the fact that prepubescent and pubescent children do not have the sexual responses of adults, and do not want sexual contact, any person under the age of legal majority, whether post-pubescent or not, cannot legally or morally consent to sexual behaviour. Studies vary, but to say that one in five women and one in ten men were sexually abused in some way as children would be a realistic estimate. It’s a shocking statistic, but there’s at least this comfort in it for survivors: they are not alone." [mijn nadruk] (348)