The story of sex

Adrian asked:

What prompts all living things to procreate?

Answer by Geoffrey Klempner

Oh, Adrian. Before I get into answering your question, I want to say that I totally sympathize with where (I think, I could be wrong) your question is coming from.

You are sitting at your desk, as I am right now. And you have things to do, important things you should be thinking about and getting on with. But all you can think about as you gaze out of the window at the clouds going by is, ‘What to do about my lonely situation? How am I ever going to win a woman?’

And when you’ve plucked up the courage, and your plan succeeds, and finally, trembling with anticipation and excitement, you have the object of your desire in your grasp, after so much much stress and effort, all you want to do is…

What? Why?! What an absurd thing! You want to stick this bit in there and move it around. Really? Is that it? If some joker had sat down and planned out a universe, they couldn’t have thought of a more ridiculous arrangement.

First off, it isn’t true that all living things want to procreate. I don’t want to procreate. (And I believe I am alive.) I mean, I did once, and I succeeded (three times) but I’m past that now. These days, when I look at a beautiful woman all I see is a plant pot. You plant a seed, and nine months later a baby sprouts up. That’s the total story of sex so far as I am concerned.

And this is the thing about being a human being. The literal answer to your question is that, if you accept the possibility that Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection might, in some manner or other, be true, then the entire history of sexual (and asexual) reproduction traces back to natural random genetic variations leading to organisms having a greater or lesser impulse to reproduce. On average, those organisms with a lesser impulse to reproduce are less likely in fact to do so, and so over time the impulse to reproduce increases in the gene pool.

This is, of course, an extremely crude explanation and all sorts of variations on this theme need to be accounted for. Details aren’t that important. You get the gist. For example, there’s the question of what possible evolutionary role being gay might play but I will put that on one side. I read somewhere that it has been observed that when the male mallard duck population in Regent’s Park London exceeds the female by a certain amount… well, let’s get into the gory details.

But, the thing is, Adrian, being human, we are not condemned to act out the pre-programmed behaviour of our genes. We do things for reasons. And one reason (rather strong, in my view) for a human male not allowing your genes to rule your life is that there are more important things to do. Ever since Socrates in his death cell mused on the notion of his body as the ‘prison house for a soul’ (read Plato’s Phaedo) philosophers have sought with greater or lesser success to liberate themselves from their human all-too-human sexual cravings.

It’s not really helpful, however, to say to a young man, ‘It gets easier as you grow older,’ because that is a long time to wait!

The best advice I can give is, ‘Just give in.’ And accept the consequences. You are a human being and there’s no pretending otherwise. Accept sex as part of human life. That doesn’t mean it has to rule your life. It can be quite enjoyable to indulge in, and as a bonus you may have something more than just ideas out of your head to contribute to future generations.

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