Thursday, February 14, 2008

That's the story of, that's the glory of...


Click to enlarge Anne's Valentine.

I read somewhere that Valentine's Day is big in Iran. And in China. Here on this little island in the Bahamas it is one of the most celebrated days of the year. Seems as if every Bahamian man is buying a big red-cellophane-wrapped basket of romantic goodies for his honey. The women too are snapping up amorous tokens for their lovers.

Cupid is apparently more ubiquitous than Santa.

But what is the purpose of all of these endearing gifts? Disinterested love? Or is it something we want in return?

Biologist Tim Birkhead writes about a key concept of sexuality in Promiscuity: An Evolutionary History of Sperm Competition:
Far from being a co-operative venture between the sexes, reproduction was a selfishly motivated exercise, with each male and female out to maximize their benefits and minimize their costs. Sometimes the interests of each sex coincided, creating the illusion of co-operation, but most of the time each individual was out to get the best deal -- even at the expense of his or her partner. This is sexual conflict: the battle of the sexes, where males and females are out to screw each other for the best, selfish genetic deal they can get...[T]his unconsciously selfish attitude by each sex has been the driving force for many behavioral, physiological, and anatomical aspects of reproduction.
Is Valentine's Day a triumph of romance over biology? Or are we really selfishly signaling what we want in bed? "What do women want?" has been the perennial male question. Women pretty much know what men want, but they are no happier for it. Considering the sex lives of other species doesn't help much to answer the questions. A female screwworm fly mates only once in her life. The male giant water bug might copulate more than 100 times in a 36-hour period. Humans seem to fall somewhere between the screwworm flies and the water bugs. Where they fall may depend on a box of chocolates or a dozen long-stemmed roses.