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Animal swingers play the mating game

19 January, 2009

When it comes to sex, most species take promiscuous approach

By Jeanna Bryner

So, here I am posting about animal behaviours again.  Why am I doing this?

Animal behaviours offer clues to human behaviours. Science has learned a lot about our origins and physical make-up from the study of animals and offers a way to understand human male and female relationships.


When it comes to mating, wild animals make their own rules. From lionesses of East Africa that mate with many males before ovulating and committing their eggs, to male walruses that joust for several female partners, the animal kingdom is full of swingers.

“Swingers” is not a term usually associated with the natural order of relationships, but the implication is not so frivolous and loose as one might think. As the author of this article states, ‘survival and passing on genes are serious business in the animal world.”

Let’s begin here:  Males and females in the animal world have different agendas.  I think most of us can accept this basic premise and the notion that it might apply to humans.

Animal “personal ads” would reveal a conflict between males and females. Males want to mate with as many females as possible with the goal of fertilizing the most eggs.  Females are a little more selective, preferring to hook up with the best males to fertilize their eggs.

The suggestion that there are basic genetic differences between male and female (and I don’t mean body parts) is not exactly politically correct in many circles.  Among women especially, the need to be recognized as an equal partner in all areas of life is a legitimate concern — a legitimate concern that has led women to shift focus from what a human being needs — respect, freedom, equality, and choice — to concentrate more specifically on what women need.  This is an area I will address in a future post, but for now I want to focus on the differences between male and female.

One of our basic stereotypes about men is their prodigious sexual appetite, but what if that appetite is necessary to the survival of the human species?  What if the “need” is the insurance that there will always be enough of us? As we over-populate the world it is difficult to fathom why we would need such insurance, but there was a time in the early years in Africa when our ancestors were on the verge of extinction. (HERE)  Another stereotype about men is their violent nature, but what if this too is, or at least is derived from, the need to guarantee the fitness of humans to survive in a physically hostile environment?  How do we accomodate these needs?

[A couple of necessary disclaimers:  not all men seek to mate with women, not all women seek the “best males” nor any male, for that matter.  As I said in my earlier post about homosexuality, in animals (HERE) there is a wide variety of mating habit acceptable and necessary for the preservation of a species.]

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My new favorite word: “polygyny” –  males doing battle for the females of the herd.

Sexual selection tends to favor adaptations that enhance reproductive success, including a large body size to boost success in pre-mating combat between males, and high sperm counts to up the chances of successful fertilization.

Meanwhile the females are munching on the grass and staying out of the way.

Rather than investing limited resources in inflating their bodies, females typically have a more conservative growth strategy and allocate more into the production and provisioning of offspring….”Males fight it out and the best fighters get large harems of females,” Tim Clutton-Brock, an animal ecologist at the University of Cambridge, told LiveScience. “If you just take the winner, you’ve got the best male. You don’t need to sit back and choose carefully between males.”

Sit back and wait for the males to sort it all out?  No burden, no decisions, no worrying about making the right choice no responsibility.  Add to the size of the group and raise that offspring. Not so easy as it sounds.

For females, the drawbacks of sex with lots of partners include an increased probability of inbreeding, higher chances of predation, more risk of catching disease and physical injury or exhaustion from the frequent sex.

Still a female has to do what a female has to do, right?

But sometimes it’s the females who make the decisions about mates? In this instance, she is the swinger. It’s called “polyandry.”

…by mating with multiple males, a mom can produce healthier offspring, and in some species, ensure devotion and help in child-raising by many fathers.

In polyandry, the benefit to the species is clear.  The benefit to the female is clear — more males to help raise and care for the offspring.  But what are the benefit to the male in this arrangement?  Depends on the species.

The female Australian hanging fly will allow males that provide larger nuptial gifts to copulate longer, and in turn transfer more sperm, skewing paternity.

Animal species, like the human species, depend upon the female to produce healthy, strong offspring with a high chance of survival. Obviously, this is a biological imperative, not a conscious choice.  But what if this imperative still drives our species to guarantee the survival of the human race?  How does it affect the female of the species today?  How do we acknowledge and accommodate that need today?

Trying to understand how that imperative works in animals is a way to understand how it affects human relationships, quality of life, the multitudes of living arrangements found among humans today, and the affect on all humans of the choices we make.  As a conscious species, we must have understanding; it is a primary tool for modern men and women.

But this is a topic for another post.


read the rest of the article here:

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