Sex, what is it good for?

28 10 2008

(Maybe the single life is getting to me…)

Humans often look at things from a very human point of view. It’s really not that surprising, but it can lead to somewhat linear thinking.

Such as linear concepts regarding evolution. You know that horrendous version where by everything lines up towards a singularity (usually us): from amoebas to fish to lizards to rats to monkeys to us. It sounds like some twisted video game-esque parody really.

Along with opposable thumbs, the development of bonking has been paraded as a major leap forward in evolution. But why then does most life on earth today reproduce by non-sexual means?

The whole myth of sex being all that and then some begins, like many mythconceptions on evolution with high-school. We learn that sex was developed as a way of maximising genetic variation. You get genes from Mummy AND Daddy. This means offspring made from sex are ultimately more likely to be fitter than asexually reproducing species and therefore sex is the best thing before and after, and possibly during, sliced bread.


Sex is not a mechanism for maxmising fitness through evolution – particularly in a sense of strength, toughness and all-round better-er-ness. Sex is the slippery path to a shallow and superficial future. All sex really cares about good looks. When selective pressure rises, keeping up appearances is all that counts†. Even in yeast.

In order to pass genes onto the next generation, an asexual organism must prove its worth by surviving in its environment long enough to gather the resources necessary to create its own offspring: all… by… itself. That takes guts*, people. That’s why some of the biggest hard-asses around are asexual – Anthrax, Thermus aquaticus, and black tip sharks. They have to fight for their right to … well not party

When you introduce sex, evolution changes from this romper stomper red in tooth and claw deathmatch to a Miss Universe pagent. Previous gen-pool lifeguard Gunn. Sgt. Hartmann has been replaced by Paris “That’s Hot” Hilton.

All a sexual reproducing species has to do is be suave enough to get someone up the duff**. After that you can run away and die. Everything after the “act” is generally no consequence. Incidentally, that’s why elephants starve to death in old age (which we’ve already covered).

I’m envisaging some sort of bizarre reverse frog-prince scenario on the horizon. Although when I look at some old people, I wonder if perhaps we are already there?




†Okay, I’ll confess, “not shooting blanks” is the number one concern during sexual selection. But if I admit that up front it sort of wrecks my whole sex is useless tirade.

*what is the microbial equivalent – robosomes? endoplasmic reticulum?

**no sexism intended. Selection pressure for attractiveness will be ultimately placed on whoever’s sex is in excess.




2 responses

30 10 2008
Tangled Bank #117 | Neural Gourmet

Featured on Tangled Bark #117:

“Next up we have a handful of neuroscience and psychology posts. Sharp Brains brings us an interview with Michael Posner in Training Attention and Emotional Self-Regulation and Ouroboros tells us how our thoughts can affect our health with An apple a day keeps the doctor away, but beware of intrusive thoughts. It’s Alive is using his brain to ponder Sex, what is it good for? and rounding out the brainy part of this edition of Tangled Bank, we have a pair of posts from Neurotopia: Remember the Old Days? and It’s not the size that counts, it’s how you use it!.”

4 11 2008
Russian moths “vant to suck your blood” « It’s Alive!!

[…] it is all sex’s fault that nature does weird […]

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