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The Score: How the Quest For Sex Has Shaped the Modern Man

Faye Flam

Book started out as a column in Philadelphia Inquirer called "Carnal Knowledge' where author explained scientific basis for any sex topic.

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Interesting dedication; "I should thank my man, Mitch Grieb, for feralessly accompanying me to Iceland's Penis Museum."

Asexual reproduction has advantages - you pass on all yr genes instead of throwing half away and taking a chance on someone else's, you don't have to waste energy finding someone else and seducing them etc. But problem that you also pass on all yr errors - each generation means chance of a few more bad mutations.

With sexual reproduction, even if both parents are carrying a single bad mutation, you are likely to have, out of 4 offspring, 1 with no bads at all, 2 with 1 bad each, and one unfortunate with 2 bads. So at least one will survive with a clean sheet and 2 will be no worse off.

Suggestion that women aren't much good at making jokes because men have to work hard to impress women, whereas women already impress men.

Praying mantises - if put a pair together in a closed system where the male can't escape, when you come back all you'll find is a pair of wings. Female Chinese mantises make male heads their staple diet. One strategy to avoid being eaten while you try to copulate is to wait until she's just eaten someone else. (Often doesn't work).

Giant squids - males grow to 30', females 40' or more. Male takes great risk because she's always bigger and there's no way to mate without annoying her. She has no vagina. He has a large penis (5 feet long flaccid - no-one has ever seen an erect one) with a cartilage lance at one end which he rams into the female. Sometimes the female bites off the male's penis or arms with deadly beak. One or both may not survive the encounter.

Simultaneous hermaphrodites don't just share. They usually fight bitterly over which one gets to be the male. For example a sea worm which lives on Great Barrier Reef - when two meet they try to stab each other with their penises - the one that gets stabbed first gets fertilized and becomes female. In species that have set sexes, the female can at least run away. But with hermaphrodites, the male half won't let the female half leave.

Penis has evolved many times. Some animals, such as cattle, have a fibrolastic penis which stays semi-erect all the time and is mainly controlled by muscles. Humans have a vascular system, which relies on infusion of blood, and so can fail as blood pressure problems. Chimps and bears have a penis bone, but this is also flawed, as it can break.

Joan Collins quote - "The problem with beauty is that it's like being born rich and then getting steadily poorer." Humans are only mammals that don't prefer older women. Chimps will fight hard for the highest status females - the oldest ones.

Peahens select males with most eyespots on tail. females prefer to wait their turn for a popular male - he may have only two more spots than less attractive male. They don't actually count the spots, but react to density.

Male mosquito fish have a giant penis - up to 70% of body length. But extra drag makes them easy prey for predators. Scientists confirmed preference by projecting pictures of same fish on opposite sides of tank, but one of them digitally enhanced by 15%. The females all swam straight to the side with 'big boy'

Commonly held view that creativity is a side effect of our brain growth, and our brain growth came from practical calculations associated with hunting. But perhaps creativity evolved because seen as sexy. Most hunter societies easily gather enough food - so for past million years the main problem during the good seasons anyway, has been battling boredom.

Most species in which physically strong alpha males apparently dominate the available females, also have cunning "sneaky fuckers". Most extreme version of this, especially in some fish species, is to actully look like a female.

In some species of fish females won't mate unless male is proving suitability by devotedly caring for little fish larvae. Obviously a Catch-22 situation, often solved by burglarizing someone else's eggs. What usually happens is a male ousts a rival from his nest, eats most of his babies but leaves just enough to fool some female into thinking that he's a nice single dad. (Hugh Grant in About A Boy?)

Western societies tolerate women wearing male underwear, but not vice versa.

Review of book in New Scientist 2008

MODERN man. Is he a lying, scheming philanderer or a protective, fatherly companion? It turns out he's all of the above: he's your typical animal.

Although, if I'm reading Faye Flam correctly, he's an animal that missed out on the really good stuff when it comes to sexual performance. He lacks the potent delivery system of the polyclad flatworm, a ribbon-like sea dweller whose acidic semen burns its way through to its target. He lacks a penis bone, which means that, unlike the walrus, he cannot be - well - ever ready. He also lacks the staying power of stick insects, which are capable of maintaining intercourse for months. And he doesn't even come close to his primate cousins: "A chimp boasts testicles twice the size of a man's and a sperm count that makes ours look dismal."

It's enough to make you wonder how the human species managed to successfully reproduce at all, much less overrun the planet. The Score doesn't really address that question, but it makes a good case that, in a social species like our own, corrosive semen isn't nearly as effective a strategy as conniving one's way into the bedroom. To emphasise the point, the book centres on a "Seduction Boot Camp", a seminar for which men pay more than $2000 to learn techniques for bagging attractive women.

Here are a few tips from the book for men: Enter a bar with female friends, so as to look extra-desirable. Be mildly rude to the woman you've targeted. Improve on your natural looks. In Flam's account, the boot-camp instructor wore boots with three-inch soles in order to bring his height above six feet. This made me wonder whether his chosen targets were startled when he stripped for bed and suddenly dropped closer to the floor.

Sexual deception is not a uniquely human practice. I've always admired ethologist Peter Marler's work with chickens, which showed that roosters routinely lie to hens in order to improve their sexual odds. Chickens use a series of simple calling sounds to communicate information, from predator sightings to food locations. Marler found that males will sound a food call, even when there is no food in sight, just to lure a choice hen close enough to be jumped. Apparently it works like a charm.

I mention his work not because of the annoyance factor - why can't those females learn? - but because it illustrates a central point when it comes to discussing the evolution of human behaviour and the influence of sexual selection: we are best understood in context. The most illuminating research helps locate our place in the natural world, explores what we share with other species and what we've carved out for ourselves.

This is hardly revolutionary; Charles Darwin expressed it far better in The Descent of Man. Thus the flatworm, the stick insect, the chimpanzee and the walrus are among many other species in Flam's book - a menagerie that helps us to see just what kind of an animal man really is.

The Score is at its best when it is exploring the advantages or peculiarities of other species. The author is charmingly entertained by subjects like the corkscrew-esque penis of the Argentine lake duck. But Flam seems to find human males less endearing (barring her boyfriend, who provides "living proof that men are not pigs"), and it shows. Of course, this may be inevitable, deriving from her decision to illustrate the eponymous "modern man" with the wannabe studs from the seduction clinic.

If those guys are the end point of human sexual selection then, please, sign me up for a few months with a stick insect.

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