An Ordinary Man

Or, Men 101

Category: biology

I Might Need a Brighter Wardrobe …

Jürgen Otto, working with Madeline Girard, a graduate student at University of California, Berkeley, photographed this dapper gent trying to impress a female peacock spider in Australia (apparently that leg kick slays them):


Just in case you thought your date was under- or over-dressed last weekend.

Read more:

A Fundamental Difference

From what he could see of it, Heather’s bra was intriguingly insubstantial and lightly trimmed with lace. Quite possibly, it was part of a matched set and Richard allowed his eyes to move down her body to her hips to contemplate the bottoms. The fabric of her pants, a perceptible weave of some kind – herringbone? – revealed no intimate details of what lay beneath so Richard began to seriously consider the matter. Of course, contemplation of the underwear leads to contemplation of what is within the underwear and before long Richard was shamelessly imagining the most intimate details of his colleague’s anatomy.

Richard, the frustrated college professor and the ordinary man of the novel of the same name, would understand an article in today’s NY Daily News perfectly.  There, a woman blogged about her decision not to wear yoga pants because of the thoughts such revealing attire can create in us poor males.

At least two of her readers suggested that by that logic, men would need to stop wearing suits because some women find them sexy. Exactly, Richard would tell his class; at a very basic level, men are programmed to respond to physical attractiveness and/or the apparent mindset of the woman, while women are programmed to respond to the ability of the male to provide – a woman showing her stuff is almost automatically sexy to a guy, just as a guy wearing a suit presumably has a good job and is therefore sexy to the essential female.

And it was to what he attributed his own dissatisfaction to in his marriage counseling session:

    “What about what you said was your worst fear; that you are not a good enough provider?”

    “Well, to understand that, you have to understand that I teach evolutionary biology for a living. My day is filled with the survival of the fittest, to the victor go the spoils, who is the best mate. Et cetera. It’s very obvious that she could have done better.”

    “You think her sexuality is dependent upon the size of your paycheck?”

    “Let’s say that I’m not sure it’s not. There is very heavy selection pressure to mate with the winners. Has been for eons.  I’m virtually certain that has worked its way into the human genome.”

An Ordinary Elephant

In my novelAn Ordinary Man, I attempt to explain how the ordinary guy views sex, particularly in a marital context. Some readers have been surprised at how focused I claim your standard male is.  To them, I can only say be glad we’re not elephants.

Excerpt: Nature Screwed Up a Bit

“It is too bad, he thought, that sex involved penetration and the emission of vaguely objectionable – or perhaps even completely objectionable – fluids. He didn’t mind them, but for the most part they were from him; what she contributed he welcomed as an acknowledgment that he had done well, and was enjoying it. You had to be a pig or a dolt to not worry about her status. Her role was to offer herself up for penetration and his was to make sure she found pleasure in doing so. Men did not necessarily want the intrusiveness of penetration, or the mess of ejaculation; it’s just that that was how it was done. If touching foreheads dryly together somehow resulted in orgasm, men would be as adamant about touching foreheads as they are about inserting themselves into their partner’s body. Nature screwed up a bit with the whole penis-vagina-semen thing and he suspected it has caused difficulty between the sexes ever since.”

Male Sexuality: It’s NOT Complicated

Yesterday I ran a quote from An Ordinary Man wherein Professor Wilson was lecturing to his evolutionary biology class about the importance of the male orgasm in driving successful reproduction, while noting that female sexual satisfaction was something different, an idea not at odds with a recent study.

By coincidence, ran a story that same day about how zoologists had seen – and videotaped – elephant seals knocking down and raping emperor penguins on an isolated island near Antarctica; not just once, but on several occasions. Ick. But Prof. Wilson is right, the sex drive is very strong and elephant seals, who either control a harem of females or have none at all, are NOT going to just sit there and say, “I guess I don’t get to have sex this season.” They’ve found a port in the storm, and they’re taking it.

What is interesting to me, raised on Susan Brownmiller’s Against Our Will, is what marine biologist William Haddad said when asked  whether they do it for pleasure, as opposed to some other purpose: “In my opinion, I think yes, probably. The expression that seal had on its face — it seemed like it was for fun.”

If we do not recognize the central role sex plays in male fulfillment, there are a lot of problems we’re not going to solve.

Female Sexuality: It’s Complicated

  “Classical thought has it that the function of the orgasm for both sexes is to make reproduction worthwhile. It’s easy to see where this could be true with the males, whether you’re talking about head-butting ungulates such as buffalo, big horn rams, or African antelope; territorial males like lions and wolves who guard their fiefdoms and the mating rights that go with it with tooth and claw; or harem masters like elk and elephant seals who exhaust themselves covering as many females as possible while driving off rivals.” He played short, silent videos of each as he spoke and considered the irony of telling his female students about the strength of the male sex drive; were there any of them who had not been subjected to its relentlessness by now? “Obviously, something, it would seem, makes this all worthwhile and it’s reasonable to assume it’s the male orgasm.” Very reasonable, in fact.

    “So what about the females? Reproduction kind of seems like the ultimate bad deal for them because it’s usually up to her to more or less submit to the male’s advances, exposing herself to rough treatment from him, the fatigue of pregnancy, the danger of childbirth, and the demands of motherhood, all while he sort of just ambles off, looking for another conquest. What makes the female go there? It’s not the desire to have offspring, or the satisfaction of raising a family because although I do not doubt the special bond between mothers and their babies, animals wouldn’t be able to make a connection between sex and birth weeks or months later. Indeed, some humans don’t seem able to make that connection.

    “But yet, we can be pretty sure it’s not pleasure, at least not in most cases.” He paused, aware that he was about to venture into dangerous territory. “Much of the mating out there is coercive in nature, with the males using harassment, intimidation, and physical force to accomplish it. Copulation in many species is quick, brutish, and even painful for the female, who frequently seeks to avoid it as much as possible. The use of the term ‘rape’ would not be entirely unjustified in several cases. On the other hand, making sex as pleasant for females as it is for males wouldn’t work very well; we would literally have bad moms running all through the animal kingdom, throwing themselves at the guys, with no one watching out for the babies she might already have at home.

    “At the end of the day, it seems clear that many, if not most, females mate because if they didn’t, their species would cease to exist and not for any other reason. Females who completely reject any interaction with males are unable to reproduce themselves and would be selected out.”

That’s Professor Richard Wilson addressing his evolutionary biology class at Aeolian College, grappling with the issue of female sexuality as his own marriage falls apart because of bedroom incompatibility.  Dr. John Randolph, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology for the University of Michigan Health System and an author of a study recently published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, had this to say: “[w]omen’s interest in sex is extremely complicated,” with “[m]ood and an overall sense of health and well-being [being] key for women.”

Read more:

The Myth of the Sexual Peak

He would never apologize for needing her physically and he would never risk being scorned on account of that need.

The flip side of forsaking all others is that you do not forsake me. I do not pursue other opportunities because you are my opportunity, not because I have lost interest in those opportunities. I give up the thrill of the chase and the excitement of new skin because you know my desires and have promised to accommodate them. … Liz was wrong; it was in fact a quid pro quo, a contract, and if you breach your end of it, why wouldn’t I breach mine? This may come as a shock, honey, but I am as much a slave to my libido as you are to it, even more so. It’s not a switch I can simply turn on and off. I get hungry and tired at inconvenient times, too, and there’s not much I can do about that, either. How many times do you get to say no, and why do you even want to say no in the first place? You didn’t have to accept the ring.

Tough talk, but he felt his blood freezing in his coronary arteries as he considered his newly-understood future. He was celibate and possibly having a heart attack. At forty-two. Reaching for his phone, he waited to see if any other symptoms appeared that would warrant calling an ambulance.

According to an article in the New York Daily News, it is a myth that men enjoy their sexual peak at an early age. The article quotes Dr. Hilda Hutcherson, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Columbia University Medical Center, as saying “If you are looking for great sex, then ages 35-45 would be the best time [for a man].”  But by that age, a lot of men seem to find themselves trapped in increasingly sexless marriages, just like Richard Wilson, in An Ordinary Man.

Frequency, Not Variety (Sorry, Guys)

According to the NY Daily News, researchers from the University of Montreal and Institut Armand-Frappier have found that “[m]en who have had sex with more than 20 women have a 28% lower chance of being diagnosed with prostate cancer.” The article goes on to quote study leader Marie-Elise Parent of the University of Montreal as saying, “[i]t is possible that having many female sexual partners results in a higher frequency of ejaculations, whose protective effect against prostate cancer has been previously observed in cohort studies.” In lay peoples’ terms, that means the more often you come, the less likely you’ll get this disease.

Richard, the sexually-frustrated protagonist in An Ordinary Man, already knew this and explained it to his attractive female colleague in evolutionary biology thusly:

“I’m beginning to think the pair-bonding mechanism is not quite perfected. Males are supposed to stay with a particular female despite other sexual opportunities because the females have done away with an estrous cycle and are, allegedly, receptive at all times of the year. It is to the male’s genetic advantage to have multiple offspring but nature ended up making the sexual act itself the reward by inventing the orgasm so, the thinking goes, it is the act of intercourse – not the birth of progeny – that is meant to satisfy the male; meaning he should be just as happy having sex with the same woman fifty times with just one birth resulting as he would be with fifty women and fifty births. It is the fifty orgasms that are important. So far, so good: dad, in exchange for regular sex, stays around to help mom raise what amounts to a very needy infant with a comparatively long period of dependency.”

Frequent sex with your mate will help your marriage, and maybe keep him healthier. Plus it feels good. So why not?

Mateness Points

My seventh-grade health teacher cautioned our class that none of us were likely to have an original thought in our lifetimes – not because we were exceptionally dim-witted, but because virtually every thought worth thinking has already been thought of. So I was not surprised to see an article on confrming a pet theory regarding marital satisfaction I advanced in my novel, An Ordinary Man – that of “mateness points.” As explained by the protagonist, Richard Wilson, to his wife Liz:

“It has to do with what I’ve been calling mateness points.”

“Maintenance points? What are those?”

“No, not maintenance – mateness; mateness points.” He chuckled; she could be fun. “Matability. I don’t know; I’m going to have to coin a term if this idea has any legs. Anyway, the idea is that each female assigns each male a certain number of these points, based upon whatever makes males attractive to her, just as each male assigns them to each female based upon whatever makes females attractive to him. A guy would give points for beauty, grace, wit and style, along with intelligence and, you know, whatever. Same thing with a woman; she’ll assign points as she sees fit, and only those guys with a certain number of points will get the time of day from her. Let’s say her threshold is five hundred points; she’d obviously like Mr. Wonderful, who has maybe a thousand, but Mr. Wonderful isn’t likely to look at her because he wants more points than she is likely to have. If she’s only looking for five hundred, she’s probably a little down-market for him, so even if she does snag Mr. Wonderful, it’ll only be for a night or two. He’ll drop her as soon as a girl with more points comes along.

“Of course all kinds of complications arise. People give themselves too many points, don’t give others enough points, base their points on attributes not as meaningful as they think, don’t give the same attributes the same point values, et cetera. It’s like a cosmic balance with really funky counterweights. But the bottom line is the scale must balance, or look like it’s balanced to the couple involved. If it’s not, one of them is going to become dissatisfied at some point and cause trouble. So you strive for as many points as possible in your mate, but if you overreach, you won’t have enough points to sustain his commitment.”

“So the tipping point is when the couple’s mateness points balance gets out of whack?”


“So how many points did I have when you met me?”

“You? You were way up there. And that might be part of the problem. I wanted a high number, but wasn’t that high myself, so I fooled you into thinking I had more.”

“You had enough.”

“Thank you, but the metric can change as the relationship progresses. Sometimes points are gained, other times they are lost. I have a feeling I’ve lost points. Andrew obviously thought he had points to spare.”

“So is that what you think women do, go around calculating point values and then offering themselves to the highest they think they can get?”

“Not consciously, no. Well, some do. But I do think, I do believe, that there is at least some residual deep-seated instinct guiding a woman’s response to men. It only makes sense, to me anyway. But it’s time for me to go to work.”

It turns out, as points out, that “[i]n social psychology, there is a classic theory called ‘exchange theory.’ It is a bit cold-blooded, but it predicts that a person’s actions will be based on trying to find a balance of give and get. Each person’s resources — of all kinds, including money, looks, background — are traded back and forth for a ‘good deal.’ For example, a ‘good deal’ scenario could be a woman who makes an excellent living pairing up with a man who is a writer and is willing to work at home and be the primary child care person.”

It’s not cold-blooded; it’s how we work. Well, maybe that is a bit cold-blooded.

The “clitourethrovaginal complex” (continued)

This being one of the more popular topics here (“no G-Spot! oh, it’s the CUV region now, whew”), it deserves a follow up. The idea of this being a complex, rather than a discrete spot, is not new. Years ago, I saw a charming diagram of two wings trailing back from the clitoris, wrapping around the vaginal canal, with the presenter offering assurances that the whole region was susceptible to the proper touch. It was an amazingly erotic image but I don’t know where I saw it.

It looked something like this:'s "winged wishbone"’s “winged wishbone”

The interesting – fascinating, actually – thing is that it might all be sort of accidental. In describing it to his college students, Professor Richard Wilson, an ordinary man, puts it this way:

“Some of us in biology have come to what we consider an inescapable conclusion – that the female orgasm is an evolutionary artifact and serves no true biological purpose. It is, for want of a better term, a happy accident.”
Tanya stared at him, whether with hostility or merely intense curiosity, so he began his elaboration by looking directly at her.
“To understand this, one has to understand human embryology, which is not that different than any other kind of mammalian embryology. Although the individual’s gender is determined at the moment of conception by the presence or absence of the Y chromosome, the developing embryo does not show sexual differentiation until several weeks later. The blueprints for human anatomy are not all that different between males and females in that most of our systems operate exactly the same way; our circulation, digestion, sensory, et cetera. That’s why males have nipples, even though they normally never go on to secrete milk for the young; they were in the joint blueprint and there’s no mechanism for nature to take them out so they get built.
“Most of the female parts are homologous to the males – or vice versa. Most notably, the undifferentiated embryonic genital tubercle becomes the clitoris in the female and the penis in the male, but there’s quite a listing of sexual homologues available on the internet for those of you who might be interested.” Presumably that would be all of them, with the luckiest going on to make side-by-side comparisons in the privacy of their dorm rooms. He didn’t think it advisable to stand up there and tell them that the mons was the feminine counterpart of the scrotum, or that her inner lips matched the spongy erectile tissue of his dick. Labia was one of those words that was just a little bit too tangible for polite conversation, even in an academic setting. “The upshot of all of this is that the female body receives all of the necessary components to make orgasm possible, even if it is not, strictly speaking, essential for the continuation of the line. But I do not want to leave anyone with the impression that the sexuality of the human female is somehow jury-rigged or cobbled together from left-over spare parts as it is quite likely that its functioning, whatever its origination, has been honed over the centuries in that women who enjoyed sex presumably have out-bred women who do not, thereby tending to perfect it just like any other form of selective pressure. Not exactly survival of the fittest, but of the happiest, I guess….”

With a working title of Men 101, the novel is an unflinching, brutally honest view of male sexuality.