The Evolution of Human Sexuality

Spring Semester 1999The Joy of Life - Matisse
Biology 365
Call # 20069, Sec. 1; Credit hours: 3

Instructor: Dr. Paul J. Watson
PhD 1988, Cornell University

Time: MWF 10:00-10:50 am.
Location: Castetter Hall (Biology) Rm. 100.
Enrollment: Up to 132 students.

No single aspect of our personality and humanity defines us more powerfully than our sexuality. From William Jefferson Clinton to Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi and from Elizabeth Taylor to Mother Theresa, sexuality pervades us. Our greatest joys and our greatest psychological pain usually stem from intersexual relations. Evolutionary psychology has matured to a point where it begins to offer deep understanding of the biological bases of many socio-sexual phenomena and the nature of the intrapsychic processes of individuals that underlie them. The goal of this course will be to expose, respectfully, this deeply rooted basis of selfhood to the ever more powerful light of modern evolutionary biological theory and reasoning. We will avoid moralistic adjudicating, suspend the hypnotic influence of our ideologies and attempt, together, to see ourselves more objectively, more scientifically. Perhaps more than any course that can be offered in a biology department, The Evolution of Human Sexuality will provide active participants an opportunity to make discoveries about themselves and many details of male and female human nature that will remain highly relevant throughout life regardless of major field of study, career path, religion (or lack thereof), socioeconomic class, or just about any other circumstance of outer life.

The overall aim of the course is to harness a firmly theory-based science, its growing body of empirical data, and critical thinking in support of self-discovery and enhanced relational insight.

Regardless of the size of the course and without neglecting the need to systematically present up-to-date empirical data on human sexuality and their evolutionary interpretation in lecture form, this will be a highly interactive class. Students will be encouraged to bring relevant questions and observations to class and some time will be allocated nearly every day to dealing with them. Regular office hours (i.e., the hour immediately following every class) will be offered as well, but only as a secondary source of answers to student's questions. Conversation is my favorite way of teaching and I plan to indulge myself as much as possible. This also gives students a chance to move the course in the directions that most interest them. Active participation in these in class discussions will be a source of extra credit that may improve your final course grade.


(1) Basic familiarity with the evolutionary process and the mechanism of natural selection, as from most college level introductory biology courses and (2) a desire to temporarily set aside one's inevitable ideologies and value systems in the name of seeing more clearly and understanding more deeply the cross-cultural, species-typical attributes of the human organism (i.e., YOUR grand and wondrous, though not always "PC" intrapsychic design). Students from diverse disciplines are encouraged to enroll, including biology, clinical and research psychology, anthropology, education, sociology, philosophy, religious studies, the fine arts, and other departments where the understanding of human behavior and the nature of the inner processes that drive it is a central goal.


Midterm written exam 40%, final cumulative written exam 60%, optional final term paper (4-6 pp; for extra credit).


(1) Male, Female: The Evolution of Human Sex Differences, by David C. Geary, 432 pages.
This brand new book (published October 1998) is the first to attempt to explain most human sex differences from a single theoretical perspective, Darwin's principles of sexual selection. The book is based on an extensive review of the scientific literature in biology, psychology, and anthropology but is written for a general audience. Like the course, this book seeks to explain, not simply describe, sex differences in parental care, mating strategies and preferences, social motives and emotionality, physical attributes, physical development, play patterns, social development, brain and cognitive functioning, as well as academic skills, psychological and behavioral problems (e.g., violence and depression), occupational choices and status, among many other things. Moreover, sex differences in many of these areas are examined across cultures and historical periods in order to illustrate both cultural and biological influences on the differences between boys and girls and men and women.

Short jacket cover reviews were provided by eminent evolutionary psychologists and biologists including:

David Buss (author of "The Evolution of Desire") who stated Male, female "is simply the best book that has ever been written on the topic of human sex differences."

Randy Thornhill (Regents Professor of Biology, University of New Mexico), "this book is a must read for everyone with an interest in scientifically knowing human beings and why boys and girls and men and women are so different psychologically."

Steven Pinker (author of the "Language Instinct" and "How the Mind Works"). "Male, female ... seeks to explain the differences between women and men rather than just describe them. The book is coherent, balanced, incisive, and well-written... a pleasure to read."

(2) Why is Sex Fun? : The Evolution of Human Sexuality, by Jared M. Diamond, 176 pages.
An entertaining and informative study of human sexuality exploring how and why humans' sex lives differ radically from those of other animals and examines the evolutionary forces and factors that have shaped human sexuality. This book asks why many of the quirks of human sexuality came to be. Why are humans one of the few species to have sex in private? Why are human females the only mammals to go through menopause? Why is the human penis so unnecessarily large? Why do humans have sex any day of the day of the year -- including when the female is already pregnant, beyond her reproductive years or between her fertility cycles? Why do we differ so radically in these and other important aspects of our sexuality from our closest animals ancestors? Jared Diamond provides a delightful and enlightening look at the unique sex lives of humans that will complement course material which will show how, in some more basic respects, human sexuality is more like that of animals than we might like to believe.

Keep an eye on this home page for updated course information!

This page last updated 11 December 1998