What Is Sex For, Anyway

With the issue of what people do with their genitals looming larger with every passing day, I’ve been thinking about the way people talk about the function of sex. “It’s for procreation”, they say. Asked why, they may point to Genesis, saying “God said so.” Or they may point to Darwin, claiming “natural selection says so.” Underlying even sex-postivist, ethical slut, reclaiming cunt attitudes is a sense that reproduction is the primary function of intercourse — they just believe we’re lucky enough to be smart enough to figure out ways to forestall reproduction and still have the sex.

But why privilege the reproductive capacities of our genitals as their primary function? (4,000 years of Judeo-Greco-Christo-Roman-Celto-Muslim teachings, that’s why!) Sex, it’s true, is involved in the reproductive process (except when it’s not — see below), but function does not necessarily show intent. My car makes a good deer-killing tool, but that’s not what it was intended for. And it’s the assumption of intent that dominates the debate — that sex is somehow “intended for” procreation, by God or by nature or by both — as if either had intentions (ok, God, if she existed, might have intentions, but most of the faiths I’m familiar with that posit such a being place those intentions well beyond the ken of meagre human minds and thus hardly applicable to human understanding).

Frankly, reproduction isn’t something sex is even particularly good at achieving. In the best of circumstances, the odds of viable sperm actually reaching and fertilizing a viable egg, and of an egg thus fertilized actually implanting in the uterus, and of a zygote thus implanted developing properly and reaching term, and of a fetus thus developed being delivered, and of an infant thus delivered surviving a reasonable amount of time, are pretty slim. And that’s under ideal circumstances — a thin sheet of latex drops the chances to virtually nil, a simple pill drops them even further.

What’s more, as every right-winger railing about lesbian-raised “baster babies” (I’m talking abou you, Hannity) tacitly admits, there’s lots of ways to achieve reproduction without having sex at all — ovum can be fertilized in vitro and implanted in the uterus with nary an orgasmic groan. What’s more, our genitals seem perfectly content to do their thing regardless of the reproductive potential of the encounter (with the odd exception of the neurotic sperm played by Woody Allen in Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex But Were Afraid to Ask).

No, sex is hardly necessary for reproduction — and getting less so — and not much good at it. On the other hand, sex is really good at creating orgasms, and, defined widely enough, some sort of sex is essential to the process. Sexual excitement is crucial to orgasm, whether through touch, language, or really vivid fantasization. Considered something like obectively (that is, in the absence of literary traditions like that of Christians condemining sexual pleasure) we would probably have to admit that the primary function of sex — the one it’s best at, and the one it’s most necessary for — is to produce pleasure. Reproduction is merely a side-effect of some ways of achieving pleasure — sometimes a pleasant and even desirable side-effect, but by no means a predictable outcome of pleasure nor necessary to the attainment of pleasure.

Of course, I’m not saying that sex is “intended for” pleasure — it just is what it is. We assume, impose, invent, construct the intentions, sex doesn’t. In the end, sex is much better at creating orgasms than at creating babies — that’s just the way sex is. It functions to create babies, just not well — that, too, is just the way sex is.

Blog Against Heteronormativity Day

No comments yet to What Is Sex For, Anyway

  • Anonymous

    Kind of hard not to see pleasure and reproductive effectiveness coming as a package deal. (All puns intended.)

    I can just see the cave men and cave women, if it had only been about repro:

    “I know it’s disgusting Marcia, but we have to do it for the sake of the species.”

    Or maybe that was just the usual cave-man pick up line in those days.

  • Anonymous

    Maybe, Darius — though it seems to be the case that most animals, even most mammals, do *not* experience orgasms. I suppose they might still experience pleasurable sensations (who’s gonna ask?) but somehow they reproduce. “Cavemen” were well after humans evolved to modern form, so sex must have been as pleasurable for them as for us, but that raises another issues. The link between sex and procreation has, for much of human history and in many cultures, been poorly understood (or understood in very different terms than our scientific view of how pregnancy occurs). Even in Western society, it’s only fairly recently (the last century or so) that any real understanding of how women become pregnant has emerged — and judging from the way people talk about stuff like emergency contraception, this understanding still is not very widely shared. I think it’s fair to say that for the vast majority of people who have ever lived, sex happened because it felt good; if a woman happened to get pregnant, well, that was a lucky (or unlucky, depending) coincidence.

  • Anonymous

    That is really a valid but impossible question like, why does you’re heart beat. Well you’re brain sends it a message to beat, well why does it do that? Well to keep you alive, well why? Why are we alive at all? What is the point? You can look and look and look but, it is a personal question and the answer is somewhat different for everyone.

    However this line “but function does not necessarily show intent. My car makes a good deer-killing tool, but that

  • Anonymous

    I’m wondering what you did where that line would be an effective defense… (c:

  • Anonymous

    Hahaha, I didn’t do anything but I think that is a great way of explaining to a jury that for example possesing a knife or gun doesn’t mean you possess a weapon. Things often have more than one application and it is your intent and whether or not that intent is manifested in application that determines the definition of the item, is it just a knife used to cut an apple, is it just a gun, a collectors item from the US civil war, or is it a deadly weapon. Well it comes down to intent and application. To relate it back to you’re blog is it just a penis, a tool for passing urine, a rape kit concealed in trousers, a device to provide yourself or someone else with gratification, a tool for procreation, well that’s up to you.

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