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Tales of the Evolution of Female Orgasm and Adaptationist and Sexist Biases in Research

Friday, February 10, 2012
12:00 AM
2239 Lane Hall

Elisabeth A. Lloyd, Tanis Chair of History and Philosophy of Science. Professor of Biology, Indiana University

The evolution of human female orgasm remains an open question in biological research. Twenty-one theories have been proposed, and all of these were examined in my 2005 book, The Case of the Female Orgasm: Bias in the Science of Evolution. There I documented the adaptationist and androcentric (male-centered) biases in this research, and displayed the fact that an explanation which proposed that female orgasm was a developmental byproduct of male orgasm, and thus not directly selected, was best supported by the available evidence. The book was instantly attacked by a number of feminists, both inside and outside the academy, as being sexist because of the byproduct explanation, which they said diminished women. I had noted in the book that this claim relied on a faulty supposition, namely, that all valuable human traits must be evolutionary adaptations. Clearly, we don’t believe this: reading, writing, playing the violin, working a computer, are all clearly valued in our culture, and they are all byproducts of evolution, not evolutionary adaptations. Nevertheless, my views were considered biased against women, since they were perceived as peddling a damaging and stereotypical account of women’s sexuality. In the talk, I will review the most recent theories and evidence concerning female orgasm, and shall discuss the male bias and adaptationism in the available explanations. I will also respond to the feminist critiques of my work and the byproduct view itself, demonstrating that the deepest feminist critiques are themselves unfortunately adaptationist, and therefore unpersuasive.