I’m endlessly interested in sociology and especially the sociology of sex. Lately I was reading for the umpteenth time about “sperm competition” – the evolved nature of a man’s body to produce different types and different amounts of sperm when the possibility arises that he will be having sex with a woman who may have had recent sex with other men.
Sperm competition also involves the shape of the penis in delivering that sperm. Specifically, the glans has evolved into a sort-of barbed, mushroom shape to remove male competitors’ sperm from the vaginal canal. And of course there’s the fact that men have relatively large penises as compared to other primates.
The terms which sociologists frequently use to refer to the above are “anti-cuckoldry” tactics, prevention against “female infidelity,” women’s “extra-pair coupling,” “double mating,” and things like that. All of these terms and ideas presume womens’ agency in becoming impregnated by “rival sperm.” That is, it’s the female’s behavior and willpower that the man has evolved to counter because she is the one “allowing” other men’s sperm inside her body.
Buss is, of course, frequently cited as he seems to be the “go-to” guy regarding paternal uncertainty. He ascribes, at every turn, “female choice” and “sexual selection” to sperm competition. Even the titles of most books on the subject ascribe female agency to it (for example, “Female Infidelity and Paternal Uncertainty: Evolutionary Perspectives on Male Anti-Cuckoldry Tactics” by Steven M. Platek, Todd K. Shackelford (2006)). Granted, Shackelford does make passing mention of it in another one of his books.
But, in all my readings about this topic, I have very, very rarely seen an author refer to historical wartime gang rape as being relevant to sperm competition and male sexual evolution.
Perhaps it’s too upsetting, or perhaps modern man is so used to the concept of women choosing to do what they want with their bodies that the idea never even enters authors’ heads. Or perhaps they just don’t know their history.
However, it’s quite clear that many, many extra-marital offspring were produced not through infidelity on women’s part but due to the sacking of ancient cities and the vast, weeks-long orgies that accompanied those events.
While the thought of it is quite abhorrent to modern man, the reality is that the destruction of towns, the killing of men and boys, the gang-rapes and slavery of women were all pretty common and even an accepted part of life a couple/few thousand years ago. It happened all the damn time, to put it bluntly.
Look at Babylon, look at Assyria, look at any ancient people. Chances are they decimated, or were decimated by, some other rival state at least once in their history. The sheer number of current family lineages that could be traced back to some ancient solider would likely be mind-blowing.
So it’s at least as likely, and in my opinion even more so, that men evolved those specific sexual “anti-competition” traits because victorious soldiers were genetically “competing” against dozens, if not hundreds, if not thousands of other soldiers who had also inseminated conquered women in the frenzy which occurred during the rape and pillage of a defeated town.
I think that to fail to acknowledge this likely fact is disingenuous. The question is, why is it not acknowledged?
It could be the case that male authors don’t want to acknowledge it because it paints historical men in a bad light (as rapists). And it could be that female authors don’t want to acknowledge it because of the disturbing idea that, for most of human history, women had very little “agency” or choice about the genetic makeup of their offspring. Therefore the concept of sexual selection – at least as it pertains to female choice – plays a greatly reduced role than previously thought in human evolution through the ages.